Although the Torah prohibits performing melacha activity on Yom Tov, it permits preparing food. As the Torah states, Ach asher yei’ocheil lechol nefesh, hu livado yei’aseh lochem: “However, that which is eaten by all people, only it may be performed” (Shemos 12:16). (We will soon discuss what the Torah means by saying that something is eaten by all people.) This verse permits cooking and other food preparation on Yom Tov, but does not appear to permit melacha for non-food purposes. If so, how can we carry machzorim and push baby carriages on Yom Tov in an area without an eiruv? Before answering this question, let us explore a Mishnah that is vital to this topic:
“Beis Shammai says, ‘One should not heat water for washing one’s feet on Yom Tov unless it is appropriate for drinking, whereas Beis Hillel permit this. One may kindle a bonfire to warm oneself” (Beitzah 21b).
The Mishnah implies that both Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai forbid heating water on Yom Tov to bathe one’s entire body, and dispute only whether one may heat water to wash one’s feet. Beis Shammai rules that one may heat water on Yom Tov only for food purposes – to cook or to heat drinking water. In their opinion, if one needs to heat water on Yom Tov for washing, there is only one way: Prior to heating drinking or cooking water, one may place more water in the pot than one needs, planning to use the surplus hot water for washing (Tosafos, Beitzah 21b s.v. lo).
Why is this permitted?
This action is permitted because of a law called marbeh beshiurim, literally one increases the quantities, which means that, while preparing food on Yom Tov, one may include a greater quantity with one’s action, provided no additional melacha act is performed. Based on this principle, one may place a large pot of water on the fire rather than a small one, since he is performing only one act of heating water. However, this is prohibited if one performs any additional melacha action. Similarly, one may not add extra water to a pot already on the fire, unless he needs more water for cooking purposes.
Here is an example:
One may not bake on the first day of Yom Tov for the second. However, one may fill a pot with meat on the first day of Yom Tov, even though he needs only one piece for the first day. Similarly, one may boil a large pot of water on the first day, even though he needs only one cup of hot water. On the other hand, under most circumstances one may not bake more than one needs for the day (Beitzah 17a).
Why is baking different? The difference is that adding water or meat before putting the pot on the fire simply increases the quantity cooked, but does not increase the number of melacha acts. However, preparing extra bread entails shaping each loaf or roll separately, thus increasing the number of acts performed.
HEATING WATER FOR WASHING
Similarly, Beis Shammai rules that one may only add water for washing to the drinking water before the water is placed on the fire, but not afterwards. They strictly forbid heating water exclusively for washing or bathing.
On the other hand, Beis Hillel permits heating water even on Yom Tov in order to wash one’s feet. Why may one do this? After all, this is not for food?
MITOCH – EXPANDING PERMITTED MELACHOS
Beis Hillel’s rationale to permit this is the legal concept called mitoch shehutrah letzorech, hutrah nami shelo letzorech, which means that once the Torah has permitted any specific melacha to prepare food on Yom Tov, one may perform this melacha even for Yom Tov purposes that are not food related (Tosafos, Beitzah 12a s.v. hachi; cf. Rashi). This is why one may carry a machzor to shul on Yom Tov, even in an area without an eiruv. Since one may carry to prepare food, one may carry for a different Yom Tov purpose, such as davening properly or taking the baby for a stroll, even though these activities have nothing to do with food.
The same reason permits building a fire on Yom Tov to warm oneself — once the melacha of burning is permitted for cooking, it is permitted for other Yom Tov reasons. (Note: one may not ignite a flame on Yom Tov but may only kindle from a preexisting flame. The reason for this prohibition is beyond the scope of this essay.)
Similarly, Beis Hillel rules that one may heat water to wash one’s feet on Yom Tov. Although this use is not food related, once one may heat water for cooking, one may also heat water for a different Yom Tov purpose.
Why does Beis Shammai disagree with Beis Hillel and prohibit heating water for the purpose of having a bath? Because Beis Shammai rejects the concept of mitoch; in their opinion, one may not perform any melacha on Yom Tov unless it is food preparatory. Indeed, Beis Shammai prohibits carrying on Yom Tov, except for food-related needs (Beitzah 12a). Our practice of carrying on Yom Tov for non-food needs is because we follow Beis Hillel’s opinion that accepts the concept of mitoch.
HEATING BATH WATER
Despite Beis Hillel’s acceptance of mitoch, they forbid heating water on Yom Tov to bathe one’s entire body (Mishnah Beitzah 21b). Why did Beis Hillel prohibit this activity if mitoch permits other Yom Tov activities? The answer to this question involves a fascinating dispute with major practical ramifications.
Chazal prohibited bathing in hot water on Shabbos, even if the water was kept hot from before Shabbos, out of concern that bathhouse attendants might heat water on Shabbos, claiming that it had been heated before (Shabbos 40a). This prohibition is called the gezeiras merchatz, literally, the prohibition on the use of a bathhouse, although it is not restricted to bathhouses, but includes almost all instances of bathing in hot water on Shabbos.
Similarly, the Mishnah (Shabbos 38b) describes how the residents of Teverya ran a cold water pipe through hot springs so that they could have hot bath water on Yom Tov. The Sages prohibited using this water for bathing, since it was warmed on Yom Tov, notwithstanding the fact that it was heated automatically.
The Rambam’s understanding is that Beis Hillel prohibits heating bath water on Yom Tov as an extension of the gezeiras merchatz, even though no Torah violation can possibly result on Yom Tov (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 1:16). In his opinion, Beis Hillel’s prohibition against heating bath water on Yom Tov is rabbinic, whereas according to Beis Shammai it is forbidden min hatorah.
Others dispute the Rambam’s conclusion, contending that heating bath water on Yom Tov is a violation min hatorah, even according to Beis Hillel (Tosafos, Beitzah 21b s.v. lo). This approach requires an introduction.
SHAVEH LECHOL NEFESH – EVERYONE APPRECIATES
Although the concept of mitoch sanctions non-food-preparatory melacha activity on Yom Tov, this authorization is limited to activities that most people appreciate, called shaveh lechol nefesh. However, mitoch does not sanction a benefit that only some people appreciate and others do not (Kesubos 7a).
Let me explain why this is so, and then provide some clarifying examples. When the Torah permitted melacha activity on Yom Tov, its words were: However, that which is eaten by all people, only it may be performed. By emphasizing by all (in Hebrew lechol), the Torah implied that only universally appreciated benefits are permitted. However, the Torah did not permit melacha activities not universally enjoyed.
A few examples will explain this concept. One may kindle fire on Yom Tov, because that is how people cook. As I explained above, the concept of mitoch authorizes burning wood to heat the house, since everyone appreciates being warm on a cold day (Mishnah Beitzah 21b). However, not everyone enjoys the aromatic fragrance of burning incense; it is not shaveh lechol nefesh. Therefore, one may not kindle incense on Yom Tov (Kesubos 7a).
Similarly, many contemporary poskim rule that smoking on Yom Tov desecrates the holiday [see Shulchan Shelomoh, Refuah Vol. 2 pg. 221; Nishmas Avraham, Vol. 1 pg. 278 ] (in addition to the other prohibitions violated for endangering one’s health and that of others). They contend that most people today do not appreciate the pleasures of smoking, and therefore, it is not shaveh lechol nefesh (see also Shaarei Teshuvah 511:5; Bi’ur Halacha 511:4).
DOESN’T EVERYONE BATHE?
How does this compare to bathing on Yom Tov?
Until fairly recently, frequent bathing was uncommon. Therefore, Tosafos explains that warming bath water is not shaveh lechol nefesh and is therefore proscribed on Yom Tov min hatorah, even according to Beis Hillel. As I explained above, the Rambam disagrees, maintaining that heating bath water is prohibited only miderabbanan, as an extension of the gezeiras merchatz.
Thus, these authorities dispute whether heating bath water on Yom Tov is forbidden min hatorah or only miderabbanan. Is there any practical difference between these two opinions?
HEATING BATH WATER BEFORE YOM TOV
There is indeed a practical difference between these two approaches: May one bathe on Yom Tov using water heated before Yom Tov? Let me explain.
Earlier, I mentioned the gezeiras merchatz banning bathing on Shabbos even with water heated before Shabbos, out of concern that the bathhouse attendants might desecrate Shabbos. Does the same concern exist on Yom Tov? The Ran (Beitzah 11a) explains that resolving this query depends on the dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam. According to Tosafos, heating bath water on Yom Tov violates Torah law; therefore, bathing on Yom Tov entails the same concerns as bathing on Shabbos. Just as Chazal banned bathing on Shabbos, they banned bathing on Yom Tov (Tosafos, Shabbos 40a s.v. lemotza’ei).
However, according to the Rambam, since heating bath water on Yom Tov is itself prohibited only miderabbanan, there is no reason to prohibit bathing on Yom Tov using water heated before Yom Tov. Indeed, the Rif (Beitzah 11a) and other early authorities rule explicitly that one may bathe on Yom Tov using water heated from before Yom Tov.
Thus, whether one may bathe on Yom Tov using water heated before Yom Tov is subject to dispute, the Rif and the Rambam permitting it, whereas Tosafos and others ban it. Since the Shulchan Aruch (511:2) rules like the Rif and the Rambam, a Sefardi may be lenient, whereas an Ashkenazi cannot be lenient, since the Rama rules like Tosafos.
As I mentioned above, all authorities prohibit bathing on Yom Tov with water heated on Yom Tov, even if the water was heated automatically.
WASHING PART AT A TIME
Although the Rama concludes that one may not bathe on Yom Tov, even using water heated from before Yom Tov, halachic consensus permits washing one’s entire body this way, provided one does not do so all at one time (Rashba, Ritva and Ran to Shabbos 40a; Elyah Rabbah 511:1; Mishnah Berurah 511:15, 18). This is called washing eiver eiver, one limb at a time. Thus, theoretically, one may stand in a shower stall — not beneath the water flow — and place different parts of one’s body under the hot water, one after another. Ashkenazim may not stand directly under the water flow, because this washes most of one’s body at one time, but may splash water onto the body by hand. According to the approach accepted by the Sefardim, one may stand directly under the flow of hot water.
However, all of this is permitted only if both of the following specific conditions are fulfilled:
1. One must be certain that one is using only water heated before Yom Tov. As I mentioned above, all authorities prohibit bathing in water heated on Yom Tov, even if it was heated automatically.
Furthermore, hot water generally mixes with cold water before emerging from the faucet. If the hot water heats the cold water to yad soledes bo (for these purposes, usually assumed to be 113 degrees Fahrenheit), this involves heating bath water on Yom Tov, which is prohibited; and furthermore, one may not bathe in this water. Thus, one would need to guarantee that mixed water does not heat to this temperature.
Showering in a hotel or dormitory may be even more problematic, as most of these facilities use a coil system that heats the water as you turn on the faucet. This would be prohibited according to all opinions, because one is using water heated on Yom Tov and would involve a Torah prohibition according to Tosafos, since one is heating water to bathe one’s body.
2. Most North American household water heating systems operate with a boiler that automatically replaces hot water with cold, as you use it. This means that when one bathes or showers, one is heating cold water not for the purposes of Yom Tov use. There is a complicated rationale behind permitting heating of the new water. If the heating is indirect and unintentional, some permit it on Yom Tov (Tosafos, Beitzah 22a s.v. vehamistapeik; Shaar Hatziyun 514:31; however cf. Magen Avraham 514:5 and Mishnah Berurah 514:20. Also see dispute between Magen Avraham 314:5 and Terumas Hadeshen; see also Ritva, Eiruvin 88a).
WHAT ABOUT A COLD BATH?
According to what we have said until now, it should be permitted to take a cold shower or bath on Yom Tov. For that matter, what is wrong with taking a cold shower on Shabbos? Indeed, according to the conclusion of the Gemara, there is nothing wrong with bathing in cold water on Shabbos. However, early Ashkenazic poskim record a custom not to bathe in cold water on Shabbos due to a variety of reasons, including that one might carry (if one bathed outdoors in an area without an eruv) or squeeze water out of one’s hair or towel (Magen Avraham 326:8). This is established Ashkenazic custom: except for tevilah in a mikvah, one does not bathe on Shabbos. Sefardim never accepted this minhag, and may therefore take a lukewarm or cold bath or shower on Shabbos and certainly on Yom Tov. They should, of course, be careful not to squeeze out hair or a towel. Even following Ashkenazic practice, it is prohibited only to bathe all or most of one’s entire body, but one may wash less than half one’s body.
WHAT ABOUT A COLD SHOWER?
Even though Ashkenazim accepted the custom not to bathe in cold water on Shabbos, some poskim rule that the prohibition includes only bathing on Shabbos, but not showering. In truth, some of the reasons quoted by the Magen Avraham apply to cold showers also, since one might squeeze out one’s hair or the towel whether one is bathing or showering, whereas the other reason mentioned, that one might by mistake carry on Shabbos, applies only to someone who bathes outdoors, and applies less to someone who showers indoors.
In his teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that, although some authorities may permit cold showering on Shabbos, one should not follow this leniency, since it violates accepted practice (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:75). However, one who is mitzta’eir may take a cold shower, since the custom mentioned by the Magen Avraham does not apply. Furthermore, Rav Moshe permits taking a cold shower on Shabbos during a heat wave (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:74: rechitzah: 3). Certainly, one may be lenient to take a cold shower on Yom Tov when one is uncomfortable. One should be careful not to squeeze one’s hair or the towel.
In practice, each person should discuss with his rav whether and how to take a hot shower on Yom Tov. Whatever your decision, I wish you all a happy, kosher, and comfortable Yom Tov.
Note: For insights into the permissibility of showering on Shabbos, see “May One Shower on Shabbos?”